climate emergency

Image: Elyeser Szturm

Only the massive presence of the population on the streets, in acts of civil disobedience and new socioeconomic experiments can untangle the systemic obstacles of the negotiation rounds on climate change

By Luiz Enrique Vieira de Souza and Nataly Sousa Pinho*

"We don't have time to ignore science anymore." This was the call given by Greta Thunberg at the twenty-fifth United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP25) and it summarizes well the message that has been the axis of activism that has made her, deservedly, chosen as the “personality of the year” by the magazine Time. The urgency of the Swedish activist's speech is based on the sequence of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which formulated a broad scientific consensus on the anthropogenic causes of climate change and the forecasts regarding the increase in the concentration of so-called “gases”. of the greenhouse effect” in the atmosphere.

Called by Bolsonaro a “brat”, Greta Thunberg evoked the most sophisticated scientific studies in environmental sciences to remind the international community that we have only 320 Gigatons of CO2 left before we still have a 67% chance of restricting the increase in global temperature to 1,5 .XNUMX °C. Once this threshold is crossed, the effects of climate change will assume drastic and potentially irreversible proportions.

They will lead to melting polar glaciers, a higher incidence of extreme weather events, water stress, damage to food crops and coastal erosion. The consequences in terms of human suffering will be proportionally violent, as such imbalances will increase migratory pressures, disputes over natural resources and global inequalities. Taking into account the statistics of recent years, this “point of no return” will be reached in the next eight years, if an ambitious international cooperation effort is not implemented that causes a drastic inflection in the global pattern of emissions.

Although this situation configures a “climate emergency”, the appeal of Greta Thunberg and thousands of activists for the scientific evidence about the imminent catastrophe to be taken seriously was not enough for political leaders to commit to measures to restructure production that could lead to the decarbonization of the economy.

In this sense, the COP25 final document represents the postponement of an issue that cannot be postponed, and the timidity of its resolutions reveal yet another symptom of the failure of multilateralism to implement global efforts in favor of the environment. This failure expresses, in turn, the systemic imperatives of a competitive globalization in which the insertion of national economies in the international market significantly depends on the exploitation of natural resources and the minimization of production costs, as is the case, for example, of the use of coal in electricity generation.

Recognizing the systemic nature of the obstacles that stand in the way of concluding a civilizing pact in defense of the environment does not mean underestimating the importance of conjunctural factors that also interfered in the course of debates and frustrated the outcome of COP25.

In this plan, Brazil was a negative highlight and emerged as the villain of the climate negotiations through Ricardo Salles, Minister of the Environment, who tried to remove important points from the final resolution of the event, particularly those that, in accordance with the special reports of the IPCC, point to the impact of rising temperatures on the oceans and the relationship between land use and climate change. Such sabotage reflects the climate denialism of the Bolsonaro government and proves to be useful from the point of view of particular economic interests, such as, for example, ruralist pressure for Indigenous Territories to be converted into pastures.

In addition, Minister Ricardo Salles demoted Brazil in the eyes of the international audience by using at COP25 some of those base argumentative strategies that Bolsonarism applies to social networks: selectivity in accepting objective facts and discursive offensiveness with the aim of diverting the focus from their own actions. responsibilities. This could be seen in the clumsy attempt to limit the problem of emissions to the use of fossil fuels. “It is important for Brazil to make it clear that the problem with gas emissions is fossil fuels. And, therefore, the attempt to disguise the discussion of fossil fuels must be made clear, moving away from it and moving on to other topics”.

Now, there is no doubt that without overcoming the current energy model and the transition to renewable energies, policies to face climate change are doomed to failure. However, Salles' rhetoric contains a high dose of opportunism and deliberately aims to sow confusion by reducing the issue of emissions to the issue of energy.

According to data from the Greenhouse Gas Estimation System (SEEG), the “land use change and forestry” sector accounts for most of Brazilian emissions, followed by agricultural activity. The preponderance of these sectors in national emissions constitutes a historical problem that concerns Brazil's subaltern insertion in the international market as a provider of agricultural commodities, and must be reinforced thanks to the unrestricted support of the current government to the interests of ruralists and prospectors, directly linked to deforestation. and soil degradation.

On the other hand, the confrontation speech that Salles addressed to rich countries at COP25 proved to be as fallacious as it was anachronistic. Fallacious because the Bolsonaro government resorts to rhetoric in defense of “national sovereignty” when, in practice, it implements policies that intensify Brazilian submission to powerful nations. Proof of this was the handing over of the Alcântara military base to the United States without compensation (a military base that, it should be remembered, was built in an authoritarian way in quilombola territory), as well as the pre-salt concession auctions to foreign nations, when the most environmentally responsible and sovereign policy would be to keep such reserves under state ownership as a strategy to avoid their exploitation and the consequent emissions of tons of CO2 that would result from it.

The anachronistic character of this allegedly anti-imperialist discourse has to do with disregarding the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities”, which resulted from the agreement signed between nations from the global North and South at the Rio-92 Conference. According to this principle, the developed nations admitted their environmental debt to the countries of the South because they had historically been the main emitters, thus recognizing the need to set more ambitious CO2 reduction targets for themselves.

The countries of the South, on the other hand, were committed to the mitigation of greenhouse gases, including by legitimizing the validity of scientific studies, whose prognoses pointed to the poorest nations located in low latitudes as those that would be potentially most affected by climate change. By disregarding this accumulation and going back to the irreducible position that Brazil assumed at the Conference on the Environment held in Stockholm (1972), Ricardo Salles ignored all the damage that the country will suffer from the environmental impacts of climate change.

The systematic militancy of Bolsonarism against environmental preservation was also evident in the most controversial issue at COP25, namely, the point regarding carbon credits. This is a problematic idea in itself, not only because it is based on a reifying proposal that commodifies the atmosphere, but also because it assumes that the unprecedented challenge of restructuring the global economy can be achieved with the mere regulation of a new stock exchange. , where countries would negotiate among themselves the right to emit more carbon.

In this context, Brazil joined the group of countries that intended to make the logic of this market even more absurd, as it defended the farce of “double counting”, in which a country could sell its carbon credits to others, without the traded were deducted from the amount that the selling country would initially be entitled to issue. As this proposal would represent the coup de grâce in multilateral climate negotiation efforts, no agreement was reached and the debate was postponed to next year's round.

Due to the Bolsonarist dismantling of environmental agencies, the presidential connivance with the burnings in the Amazon and Ricardo Salles' sabotage of the climate negotiations, Brazil won the title of "Fossil of the Year", an anti-award traditionally awarded in the COP rounds to countries that act as obstacles to initiatives against global warming, such as the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Australia. The title “Fossil of the Year” is also symbolic in relation to the argumentative logic of Bolsonaro and his ministers in the debate forums on the environment.

They incur an authoritarian contradiction by labeling environmental activists as “ideological” and popular knowledge and indigenous cosmologies as “backward”, at the same time that they despise scientific knowledge that points to the deterioration of ecosystem conditions that guarantee the reproduction of life. human on the planet. Not by chance, his government denied the right of participation of scientists and representatives of Brazilian civil society in COP25 who, in order to have access to the event, had to apply for accreditation in the entourage of other countries.

Greta Thunberg began her speech with an appeal for science's warnings to be heeded and ended her speech by suggesting that only popular mobilizations could leverage truly effective negotiations to curb global warming. In a word, only the massive presence of the population on the streets, with acts of civil disobedience and new socioeconomic experiments, could so much unleash the systemic obstacles of the negotiation rounds (see the presence among the COP sponsors of some of the banks and corporations that most contribute for accelerating climate change), such as obstacles of a cyclical nature.

In addition to waking up from the Bolsonarist nightmare, it is necessary to put on the table ideas that unite scientific knowledge with popular knowledge and indigenous cosmovisions, as well as perspectives that reflect a new development model, capable of combining the fight against inequalities with proposals for economic degrowth and to overcome the present model of expanded reproduction ad infinitum e ad nauseaum of the metabolism between society and nature, which only benefits a privileged minority.

*Luiz Enrique Vieira de Souza Professor of Sociology at the Federal University of Bahia.

*Nataly Sousa Pinho is a student of Social Sciences at UFBA

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